Book Club

edited May 2020 in Speakeasy

Let us know which books you're reading, and which you recommend.



  • I just started reading Frederick Forsyth's The Devil's Alternative (1979). It happened to be in the apartment we moved into this week (which is normally rented out to tourists, but obviously there are few of those in Barcelona at the moment) and I liked Forsyth's The Fourth Protocol. (My review of that book, and the movie starring Michael Cain and Pierce Brosnan, here.)

    So far, so good. It's about Ukrainian nationalists at the time of the Cold War.

    Just finished David Goodhart's The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics (2017). I agree with his thesis. It's something I've been writing about quite a bit for the Atlantic Sentinel: the dividing line in our politics is no longer between left and right, but open and closed. Populist revolts, like Brexit and Trump, are reactions to liberal, internationalist overreach.

    But sections of the book are repetitive. A few chapters are much lower quality than the rest. And Goodhart seems to dislike commas and hyphens, which sometimes makes him hard to read.

  • I just finished Death Shall Come by Simon R Green, the 4th in his Ishmael Jones series. I wrote a review for Never Was Magazine so that'll be up at some point :)

    And now I'm re-reading PSmith Journalist by Wodehouse, which I love. I suppose that it wouldn't hold up to contemporary political correctness, but it's still a great book that I would really recommend. I shall go read some more in it anon :)

  • Reading (and copying, by hand) The Simple Art of Murder, a collection of Raymond Chandler novelettes and short stories. Only now, I have realised how close his Noir stands to existentialist literature (Albert Camus and such): tough choices of a decent person in a totally corrupt environment.

  • I only read one Raymond Chandler novel. I think it was The Long Goodbye - but it was so many years ago, I'm not completely sure. (And most of my books are in storage back in the Netherlands, so I can't check.)

    I preferred Erle Stanley Gardner. Faster-faced.

  • Gardner used to be my favourite back in high school years. Time's running fast...

  • The best books I've read so far this year would have to be...

    Fiction: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. I finally got around to listening to all of the eponymous podcast two summers ago when my work kept me driving long distances each week out on remote construction sites. This "novelization" is really just a new story; another piece of the world. It does a great job of translating its atmospheric feel to the page, and the actual hardcover is a gorgeous book.

    Non-fiction: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells. I've been calling this one "required reading for anyone who wants to be an informed global citizen". If you want a taste of this, Wallace-Wells was interviewed on Chris Hayes' podcast "Why is this Happening?" last year (I think...) and their discussion is a great primer. Definitely not a feel-good book, but really fascinating and if you like seeing different possible futures... well this is some hard sci-fi stuff right here. One final note: I do NOT recommend the audiobook version of this. The author reads his own book, and he can't narrate to save his life. It's extremely difficult to listen to, and many of the good points don't hit home the way they do in print.

  • Finished Frederick Forsyth's The Devil's Alternative, which was pretty good, and Tom Clancy's The Cardinal of the Kremlin (1988). Now reading Clancy's Red Storm Rising (1983).

    I like Clancy's stories, but his prose is something a little inelegant. There's also a largely pointless cameo by Marko Ramius from The Hunt for Red October (played by Sean Connery in the movie) in Cardinal.

    Red Storm Rising looks to be an interesting take on World War III. I'm only a few chapters in, but it's good so far.

  • Oh boy, right into my field of interest with Red Storm Rising. Is this your first "conventional World War III" book you've read?

    As for Tom Clancy himself, I view him as someone who was decent early but not that great, with his success being more to luck and circumstances than anything else. Then after The Sum Of All Fears, his quality dropped dramatically.

  • Yes! It's my first Cold-War-turned-hot novel.

    Do you have recommendations for which to read next?

  • Ralph Peters' Red Army would be my next and biggest recommendation.

  • I've read about it, but I haven't read it. I'm putting it on my reading list, thanks!

  • Early Tom Clancy had two very entertaining books (Hunt for Red October, Red Storm Rising), two decent-ish books albeit with flaws (Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games), and two books which had their moments but still showed early signs of horribleness (The Sum of All Fears, Cardinal of the Kremlin). Anything written after that can be safely ignored, unless you get it for free and use it as an emergency toilet paper reserve.

  • So I saw that John Schettler just released the 52nd (!) book in his Kirov series. The story behind this series is crazy.

    Basically, it started off as a Final Countdown/Axis of Time style story where one of the titular Russian battlecruisers is sent back in time. That concluded... and then the series became this ridiculous mixture of...

    ...Very, very thinly veiled let's plays/after action reports of various appropriate wargames.

    ...This ridiculous cosmology and time travel soap opera existing in large part to provide an in-universe justification for this wargame-friendly sandbox world. This includes plots/spinoffs to intervene in the Napoleonic and Zulu wars.

    The actual books are bland and I've noticed them seemingly getting sloppier as time goes on, but still, this is one of those "really?" series.

  • You had me right up to bland and sloppier as time goes on!

    I shall stick to the WTF of the Ishamael Jones books, which I am still woofully behind in! ALAS!

  • Apparently, after over 50 years and well over 600 (!) books, the Mack Bolan/Executioner series is finally winding down this year.

  • Did they run out of ideas?

    I finished Red Storm Rising. The Iceland scenes became a little tedious toward the end. There's a world war going on in Europe and half the book is devoted to four soldiers in Iceland?

    Red Army will be soon, but I didn't want to read two World War III novels back to back. So first I got Lauren Wilkinson’s American Spy and Laura Prescott’s The Secrets We Kept as well as two non-fiction books: Eric Hoffer's The True Believer and William Burns’ The Back Channel.

  • I have a few books I want to start reading. I have a review book for Neverwas, and then Young Men in Spats by Wodehouse. I also have Leave it to PSmitch that should be arriving at some point.

    Oh and I have Fatale issues 2 and 3 (which incidently I also review for Neverwas) and 2 issues of Mob Psycho 100.

    But erm, yeah I got stuck re-reading Prisonser of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire (yeah I really should get started on that review copy!).

  • Finished Hoffer's The True Believer, which is absolutely essential reading. Hoffer goes into the how and why of mass movements, which includes everything from early Christianity to Nazism. Lots of lessons that apply to both the "woke" social-justice movement of the modern left and the authoritarian personality cults of the modern right (Trump, Orban, Putin, etc.). It's a short book. You can it in a couple of days if you want to.

    Next: Burns' The Back Channel.

  • Just read Bernard Malamud's The Natural (the movie is Starship Troopers level different from the book). My review is here . The short version is that it's not very good (even as a serious novel) and Malamud clearly knew little about baseball.

  • I thought the Iceland part was the best part of that book - it was the most-character focused of all of it, and the connection to the broader world being delivered only by the radio made it properly eerie.

  • That's true. Most of the other characters were hardly developed at all. But I guess I was more interested in the non-character-focused parts.

    I'm in the process of reading Burns' The Back Channel. It's a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at US diplomacy with Russia and the Middle East since the 1990s.

  • Last night I finished Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora, which is the most depressing SF novel I've ever read.

    I'm now on his New York 2140.

  • I am reading a review book for Neverwas.

    Not the one I was talking about before, I finished that and wrote the review :)

  • I've been reading several books about Dutch history recently.

    Simon Schama, a British historian, argues in The Embarrassment of Riches that what defined the seventeenth-century Netherlands was an embarrassment about sudden and newfound wealth, and that created a mentality that, to this day, frowns on excess. It goes into a lot of detail about different aspects of seventeenth-century Dutch culture, from cuisine to childrearing. I wouldn't recommend reading the whole book unless you're really interested in Dutch history, but the overall argument is an interesting and compelling one.

    In Republiek van rivaliteiten (Republic of rivalries), Dutch historian Piet de Rooy argues that the Netherlands in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was characterized by how it managed conflicts (rivalries) between groups: Catholics and Protestants, employers and workers, liberals and conservatives, etc. It did so by giving everyone a seat at the table and working out a compromise. If you can read Dutch and are interested in learning about Dutch history, this is a good one. It's a normal-length book that gives you a good overview of the most important economic, social and political developments in the Netherlands since 1813.

  • I'm finally reading Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt -- an alternate-history classic. About halfway through. Enjoying it a lot. Deserves all the praise and awards it's received.

  • Finished The Years of Rice and Salt. Absolutely excellent.

    Moving on to Ben Macintyre's The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War. I read his Spy Among Friends, which is a thrilling, novel-style history of Kim Philby, the infamous British traitor. The Spy and the Traitor is about the early-Cold War years of the CIA.

  • I liked the Years of Rice and Salt. Particularly the reincarnation themes, and the Western Front in the Himalayan mountains sequence was absolutely terrifying. I did find the ending a bit weak, because the world ended up more or less in the same place it did in the real life turn of the 21st century when the book was released. A liberal, democratic, end of history world helmed by a North American based state with no other rivals.

    As for Robinson, I must recommend his book Aurora. It's the best commentary on the cultural myths of space travel I've ever read. And it was written by the author of the Mars Trilogy!

    Currently I'm reading 'The Big Book of the Continental Op'; A collection of Hammett short stories. Concurrently I'm reading a 1950's electronics textbook called 'Elements of Radio'.

  • I thought that was actually a nice touch: the world ending up in a similar place despite the absence of Europeans. I read it as a rebuke to the Eurocentrist worldview that freedom, democracy and prosperity were European inventions.

    I'll put Aurora on my reading list! I just started reading Marc David Baer's The Ottomans.

  • If we're talking Robinson, I'd likewise recommend 2312, New York 2140, and The Ministry for the Future.

  • I've been meaning to read Ministry of the Future. What are people's thoughts on the Mars Trilogy?

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